Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park (hereafter abbreviated as ONP) is one of the parks in the United States National Park system. It sits in the western part of Washington State on the Olympic Peninsula. The park actually consists of three distinct parts:
  1. Coastline — ONP's coastal strip is a rugged, often fog-enshrouded stretch of sandy beach and a small area of adjacent forest. There are thick groves of trees that march right up to the sand, which results in chunks of timber from fallen trees that litter the beach. Interestingly, the small coastal portion of ONP isn't even connected to the much larger, main portion of the park. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had intended for them to be connected via a continuous strip of park land, but political forces decided otherwise.
  2. Glaciated mountains — Within the center of ONP rise a series of mountains whose sides and ridgelines are topped with massive, ancient glaciers.
  3. Temperate rainforest — The western side of ONP sports a temperate rain forest, the wettest place in the coterminous United States (the island of Kauai in the state of Hawaii gets more). Because this is a temperate rainforest, as opposed to a tropical one like the Amazon Rainforest in South America, it isn't dominated by tropical ferns, but rather contains dense timber, including spruce and fir, and mosses that coat the bark of these trees and even drip down from their branches in green, moist tendrils.

Table of contents
1 Natural History
2 Human History
3 Recreation

Natural History

Because ONP sits on an isolated peninsula, with a high mountain range dividing it from the land to the south, it developed many unique plant and animal species (like the Olympic marmot and Roosevelt elk) that can't be found anywhere else in the world. Because of this uniqueness, scientists have declared it to be a Biological Reserve, and study its unique species to better understand how plants and animals evolve. A good book about the natural history of the region is Olympic National Park: A Natural History Guide by Tim McNulty.

Human History

Prior to the influx of European settlers, ONP's human population consisted of Native Americans, whose use of the peninsula consisted mainly of fishing and hunting. When settlers began to appear, the use of the peninsula (as with much of the Pacific Northwest) shifted toward harvesting of timber, which began heavily in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There wasn't much dissent against the logging until the 1920s, when people got their first glimpses of the clear-cut hillsides where trees had been logged. (The 1920s saw an explosion of people's interest in the outdoors; this occurred because the automobile allowed people to tour previously-remote places like the Olympic Peninsula.) Public desire for preservation of some of the area grew until President Roosevelt declared ONP a national park in 1938. Even after ONP was declared a park, though, illegal logging continued in the park, and political battles continue to this day (including President George W. Bush's declaration that logging restrictions must be eased) over the incredibly valuable timber contained within its boundaries. A good book detailing the history of the fight for ONP's timber is Olympic Battleground: The Power Politics of Timber Preservation by Carsten Lien.


There are several roads in the park, but none penetrate far into the interior. The park features a network of hiking trails, although the size and remoteness means that it will usually take more than a weekend to get to the high country in the interior. The sights of the rain forest, with plants run riot and dozens of hues of green, are well worth the certainty of heavy rain sometime during the trip.

A nearly unique feature of ONP is the opportunity for backpacking along the beach. The length of the coastline in the park is sufficient for multi-day trips, with the entire day spent walking along the beach. Although idyllic compared to toiling up a mountainside, one must be aware of the tide; at the narrowest parts of the beaches, high tide washes up to the cliffs behind, blocking passage. There are also several promontories that must be struggled over, using a combination of muddy steep trail and fixed ropes.